PORTSMOUTH — Principal Nancy Roy announces that students at the Robert J. Lister Academy learned a valuable lesson in cooking after they completed a unit of study on food dehydration.
For a week-and-a-half, students studied and implemented the dehydration process after partnering with Good To-Go — a local company that creates handmade gourmet dehydrated meals.
The project is part of the academy’s effort to provide hands on learning and foster community relations by collaborating with area businesses for outside instruction.
Those that work with the academy open their doors to students for a behind the scenes look at their inner workings and provide insight into a range of potential career pathways.
After visiting Good To-Go’s Kittery, Maine location, students returned to the classroom, where teachers in math, English, social studies and science tweaked their curriculum to include lessons on dehydration.
“What’s unique about our school is teachers have the freedom to say, ‘I really want to do this’ and then make it happen,” Principal Roy said. “We’ve also made a concentrated effort to work with our local businesses to further students’ learning through engaging field trips, instruction and projects.”
In math and science, students compared hydrated and dehydrated fruit, measuring and weighing the pieces and then graphing the data. In history and English, students researched different methods of food preservation — like dehydration, freeze drying, air drying — and created a slideshow presentation of their findings.
To put their studies to the test, students dehydrated a variety of foods, including a fruit “leather” (with the consistency of a fruit roll up), a mixture of rice, broccoli and cheddar, chicken and/or vegetable pasta and miso soup with vegetables and meat.
The end of the unit culminated on Feb. 2, when students and teachers, along with representatives from Good To-Go, gathered in the cafeteria to taste the foods they’d dehydrated earlier in the week.
Bowls of dehydrated chicken, peppers, mushrooms, onions, celery, peas and other items lined a table. Each person got a bowl of miso soup, noodles (rice or ramen), added the vegetables and meat to the mixture and then waited for it to hydrate.
“With this project we were trying to focus on things that are healthier and controlling what we put into our body,” senior Maddy Cavanagh, of Portsmouth, said. “I think it gave everyone a background on the different possibilities that are out there for preparing food.”
After soup, students dug into dessert, including fruit and chocolate leather, along with chocolate bars.
Senior Tori Lewis, of Portsmouth, said the best part of the unit is that she can now share what she learned with others, and has even taken over cooking at her house.
“This school has made me a lot healthier. I have my own garden with all my own herbs. I compost. I recycle,” Lewis added. “Also, if you have dehydrated fruit you will never need chocolate because it’s so sweet.”
The dehydration unit was made possible in part from a two-year Farm to School grant, which helps schools source and sustain local food that can be used for healthy meals and apply to curriculum-related projects. Through the funding, the academy was able to stock its kitchen with needed equipment to make and store a variety of foods.
In the coming weeks, students will delve into herbs and teas, pastry and breads and conclude with maple syrup.
About the Robert J. Lister Academy:
The Robert J. Lister Academy (RJLA) was developed in 1992 as part of the Portsmouth School District’s commitment to excellence in education. The innovative public high school program provides students with educational experiences that are tailored to their individual academic, social, behavioral and therapeutic needs. RJLA also prepares students for their vocational and post-secondary school goals through unique programs and partnerships.